Leveraging Cisco Technology to Offer Enterprise-Level Services at an SMB-Friendly Price
IT can be a challenge for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Many such companies lack a dedicated IT services team, and some are so small that there's no one in-house at all to oversee their infrastructure needs. With little or no access to the tools used by their larger competitors, these organizations may settle for bare minimum solutions, which may in turn impede their growth. But what if these companies could leverage the same enterprise applications and technologies employed by larger entities? How would it impact their business?
Vodafone Business has made it our mission to answer these questions. We are one of Spain’s leading telcos and a leading provider of IT and telephony services to SMBs that employ anywhere from eight to 100 people. We launched our Spanish operations 20 years ago, and 10 years after that, we introduced our PBX private virtual phone services to the country.
About three years ago, we branched out into reselling. Our value-added services program helped us provide complex solutions beyond our standard telco offerings, and we’ve partnered with other companies to offer enterprise IT products and services to our biggest customers.
Bringing SMBs Into the Loop
As great as these solutions were, they could be costly and required substantial internal resources to operate. Unfortunately, this left our small- and mid-sized customers out of the loop.
SMBs represent more than 30% of the Spanish business market and a big chunk of Vodafone Business' revenue. Like their bigger brethren, SMBs want end-to-end IT solutions that are reliable, flexible, and secure. In the past, the smallest businesses avoided anything beyond basic connectivity and a straightforward website because anything more was often too complex to manage. It was also common for medium-sized businesses to work with multiple suppliers to best deploy, maintain, and manage their infrastructure and online presence. This, however, led to problems because the various technologies offered by various vendors didn't always play well together.
To resolve issues, SMBs sometimes had to deal with two or three different support teams, prolonging service and business disruptions. On top of that, there was next to no visibility into networks at all. Businesses couldn't easily see where the issues occurred or how to correct them. Adding infrastructure was also time consuming and costly. They couldn't just pick up the phone or send an email to a familiar contact saying, "Hey, we need this now."
SMBs need tools scaled to their operational requirements—tools that they can maintain without having a dedicated IT person or team on staff. The obvious answer was managed services, but at that point, Vodafone Business didn't offer any. So about 18 months ago, we started a new business unit specifically striving to meet the needs of our small- and mid-sized customers.
Augmented Connectivity for SMBs
About a year ago, we realized the fruits of our labor and launched our Augmented Connectivity managed services offering for SMBs. We partnered with Cisco for this project because it is a respected company with a worldwide reputation for excellence. We also chose Cisco as our vendor because it provided the key technologies we needed to offer end-to-end solutions to this market segment.
Customers listen when we tell them their managed services are based on Cisco products. They recognize the quality and reliability of the brand. Because of this, they see bringing Cisco technology in-house without having to maintain it as a winning proposition. Being able to manage and configure their Cisco infrastructure without having to hire a full time IT professional sweetens the deal.
Vodafone Business' Augmented Connectivity package leverages Cisco SD-WAN and Cisco Meraki technologies to offer smaller businesses an infrastructure solution that includes VPN and remote-worker connectivity, end-to-end security, and Wi-Fi endpoint configuration and management. Customers can monitor, manage, and configure network parameters and performance in real-time using Vodafone Business' self-service portal. They also have access to 24/7 support from Vodafone Business' managed services team when they need more configuration options or encounter a severe issue.
Augmented Connectivity also offers capabilities that were priced beyond the reach of SMBs a few years ago. The service packages start at €100 a month for existing fiber customers. Bundled features include application firewalls, website filtering, intrusion prevention and malware protection, a VPN service for branch offices and remote workers, and self-managed Wi-Fi access and bandwidth allocation.
We also offer two hours of training that teaches novice and more experienced users alike how to configure and monitor their entire network using our self-service portal. Cisco has allowed us to make these powerful features available to SMBs at an affordable price while keeping everything simple.
Enterprise-Level IT at an SMB-Friendly Price
Vodafone Business' Augmented Connectivity solution uses Cisco Meraki traffic and bandwidth shaping tools to limit or block access to certain services, such as Netflix and YouTube, during high-use periods, and prioritize traffic to a cloud-based application, like Salesforce. Customers can increase bandwidth to a high-traffic location, such as a warehouse, during the day, or allocate more bandwidth to teleworkers who are providing evening and late-night services after typical business hours. All it takes is a click or two in our end-user portal.
Users can also set up Wi-Fi access for visitors and monitor their infrastructure for network intrusions using the same portal. They can monitor network activity for breaches and even block certain types of intrusions. If their infrastructure is overwhelmed or compromised, Augmented Connectivity customers can call our 24/7 support team. We not only deal with the immediate threat, but also adjust their network settings to prevent future attacks.
In most cases, network security operates in the background. Cisco Meraki automatically detects and blocks most breaches. When it can't, Cisco Meraki triggers an alarm for Vodafone Business' customer support team and we spring into action, often resolving a security issue before a customer even knows it has occurred. At the same time, our customers can view the details of all such incursions in the self-service dashboard, assuring that our managed-service provision is fully transparent. This joint approach ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.
The combination of Cisco Meraki and SD-WAN technology also means simplified deployments of customer infrastructure. Previously, we needed five or six weeks to provision, cable, and configure an on-site network, and then connect it to our fiber loops and the internet. Now, a Vodafone Business technician can walk into a customer's office with cloud-managed solutions like a Cisco Meraki MX Security appliance and a Wireless Access Point and set everything up in a day or two. Once we've deployed their managed service, we give our customers some basic training. After that, they have access to enterprise-level IT infrastructure at an SMB-friendly price.
From Concept to Launch and Beyond
It took about six months to go from concept to launch with Augmented Connectivity, and Cisco allowed us to hit the ground running. In the year since Vodafone Business introduced the service, we have seen four quarters of continuous growth; we doubled our sales numbers in the first three months and have seen monthly increases after that. We are now selling the service directly as well as through our 1,000 partners in Spain.
The low cost of entry, the painless installation and deployment, and the combination of self-service and around-the-clock support make it easy for our sales agents to start conversations about managed services with our SMB customers. However, our discussions definitely focus on value rather than on price. In this economy, a lean and innovative start-up can take out a multinational with the right product or service, and Vodafone Business can give them what they need to succeed. It’s a very simple pitch: we are offering the little guys the same tools to compete as the big guys have.
Our Augmented Connectivity program has also helped Spanish SMBs weather the COVID-19 crisis by providing them with whatever they need to transition to remote work. The release of our managed services package came at the beginning of the pandemic, when businesses around the country were forced to shut down. But business really picked up after Spain reopened and the economy got going again.
Vodafone Business' SMB customers immediately saw the benefits of a low-cost, all-in-one solution that allowed them to set up a secure and flexible work-from-home environment for their teams. We have also moved into the productivity value-added services market and are now renting desktops, laptops, and mobile devices to companies that need extra equipment for remote workers.
The Perfect Value Proposition
In a way, we were lucky. Because Vodafone Business launched our Augmented Connectivity managed service before the pandemic hit Spain, we had a solution ready when our SMB customers needed to transition to remote work. But we couldn't have landed upon the right combination of price, value, and ease of use without Cisco.
Cisco is the premier provider of networking technology globally and offers solutions for everyone from solopreneurs to multinationals. As such, the company is the perfect partner when it comes to creating new solutions for our customers. We can look at a market segment, break down its needs, and match these requirements with technologies from Cisco's extensive portfolio of solutions.
Cisco Meraki and SD-WAN gave Vodafone Business the perfect value proposition to bring enterprise-level managed services to our SMB customers. We have opened up a profitable new market and have given smaller companies ways to compete with the leaders and to meet the challenges of an unpredictable world.